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    The Once and Future Threat of Trump

    Last fall, before the November election, Barton Gellman wrote an essay for The Atlantic sketching out a series of worst-case scenarios for the voting and its aftermath. It was essentially a blueprint for how Donald Trump could either force the country into a constitutional crisis or hold onto power under the most dubious of legal auspices, with the help of pliant Republican officials and potentially backed by military force.Shortly afterward I wrote a column responding, in part, to Gellman’s essay, making a counterargument that Trump wasn’t capable of pulling off the complex maneuvers that would be required for the darker scenarios to come to pass. Whatever Trump’s authoritarian inclinations or desires, I predicted, “any attempt to cling to power illegitimately will be a theater of the absurd.”That column was titled “There Will Be No Trump Coup.” Ever since Jan. 6, it’s been held up as an example of fatal naïveté or click-happy contrarianism, whereas Gellman’s article is regularly cited as a case of prophecy fulfilled. In alarmed commentary on Trumpism like Robert Kagan’s epic recent essay in The Washington Post, the assumption is that to have doubted the scale of the Trumpian peril in 2020 renders one incapable of recognizing the even greater peril of today. In a paragraph that links to my fatefully titled column, Kagan laments the fatal lure of Pollyannaism: “The same people who said that Trump wouldn’t try to overturn the last election now say we have nothing to worry about with the next one.”One odd thing about the underlying argument here is that in certain ways it’s just a matter of emphasis. I don’t think we have “nothing to worry about” from Trump in 2024 and I didn’t argue that he wouldn’t try (emphasis on try) to overturn the election in 2020. I agree with Kagan that the success of Trump’s stolen election narrative may help him win the Republican nomination once again, and I agree with him, as well, that it would be foolish not to worry about some kind of chaos, extending to crisis or paralysis in Capitol Hill, should a Trump-Biden rematch turn out to be close.But emphasis matters a great deal. The Kagan thesis is that the Trump threat is existential, that Trump’s movement is ever more equivalent to 1930s fascism and that only some sort of popular front between Democrats and Romney Republicans can save the Republic from the worst. My thesis is that Trump is an adventurer of few consistent principles rather than a Hitler, that we’ve seen enough from watching him in power to understand his weaknesses and incapacities, and that his threat to constitutional norms is one of many percolating dangers in the United States today, not a singular danger that should organize all other political choices and suspend all other disagreements.To draw a parallel from the not-too-distant past, Kagan regards Trump the way he once regarded Saddam Hussein, whose regime he depicted as such a grave and unique threat that it made sense to organize American foreign policy around its removal. Whereas an alternative possibility is that just as Hussein’s threat to the American-led world order was real but ultimately overstated by supporters of the Iraq War, so, too, Trump is a dangerous man, both a species and agent of American degradation, who nevertheless doesn’t fit in Kagan’s absolutist 1930s categories.History may eventually reveal that Kagan, so wrong about the Iraq war, is now correct about the Trump wars. In that case, in some future of sectional breakdown or near-dictatorship, my own threat-deflating Trump-era punditry will deserve to be judged as harshly as Kagan’s Bush-era threat inflation.But that judgment is far from settled. Let’s consider those autumn of 2020 essays I started with. In hindsight, Gellman’s essay got Trump’s intentions absolutely right: He was right that Trump would never concede, right that Trump would reach for every lever to keep himself in power, right that Trump would try to litigate against late-counted votes and mail-in ballots, right that Trump would pressure state legislatures to overrule their voters, right that Trump’s final attention would be fixed on the vote count before Congress.If you compare all those Trumpian intentions with what actually transpired, though, what you see again and again is his inability to get other people and other institutions to cooperate.In one of Gellman’s imagined scenarios, teams of efficient and well-prepared Republican lawyers fan out across the country, turning challenges to vote counts into “a culminating phase of legal combat.” In reality, a variety of conservative lawyers delivered laughable arguments to skeptical judges and were ultimately swatted down by some of the same jurists — up to and including the Supreme Court — that Trump himself had appointed to the bench.In another Gellman scenario, Trump sends in “Federal Personnel in battle dress” to shut down voting and seize uncounted ballots. In reality, the military leadership hated Trump and reportedly spent the transition period planning for how to resist orders that he never gave.Further on in his scenarios, Gellman suggested that if Trump asked “state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly,” this pressure could be extremely difficult for the legislators to resist. In reality, Trump did make the ask, and every state government dismissed it: No statehouse leader proposed setting aside the popular vote, no state legislature put such a measure on the floor, no Republican governor threatened to block certification.Finally, Gellman warned that if the counting itself was disputed, “the Trump team would take the position” that Vice President Mike Pence “has the unilateral power to announce his own re-election, and a second term for Trump.” We know now that John Eastman, a Trump legal adviser, ultimately made an even wilder argument on the president’s behalf — that Pence could declare count was disputed even without competing slates of electors from the states and try to hand Trump re-election. But the White House’s close Senate allies reportedly dismissed this as a fantasy, and in the end so did Pence himself.At almost every level, then, what Gellman’s essay anticipated, Trump tried to do. But at every level he was rebuffed, often embarrassingly, and by the end his plotting consisted of listening to charlatans and cranks proposing last-ditch ideas, including Eastman’s memo, that would have failed just as dramatically as Rudy Giuliani’s lawsuits did.Which was, basically, what my own “no coup” essay predicted: not that Trump would necessarily meekly accept defeat, but that he lacked any of the powers — over the military, over Silicon Valley (“more likely to censor him than to support him in a constitutional crisis,” I wrote, and so it was), over the Supreme Court, over G.O.P. politicians who supported him in other ways — required to bend or shatter law and custom and keep him in the White House.Instead, once he went down the road of denying his own defeat, Trump was serially abandoned by almost all the major figures who were supposedly his cat’s paws or lackeys, from Bill Barr to Brett Kavanaugh to Brian Kemp to Senators Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee and Pence. All that he had left, in the end, were Sidney Powell’s fantasy lawsuits, Eastman’s fantasy memo and the mob.I did, however, underestimate the mob. “America’s streets belong to the anti-Trump left,” I wrote, which was true for much of 2020 but not on Jan. 6, 2021. And that underestimation was part of a larger one: I didn’t quite grasp until after the election how fully Trump’s voter-fraud paranoia had intertwined with deeper conservative anxieties about liberal power, creating a narrative that couldn’t keep Trump in power but could keep him powerful in the G.O.P. — as the exiled king, unjustly deposed, whom the right audit might yet restore to power.That Trump-in-exile drama is continuing, and it’s entirely reasonable to worry about how it might influence a contested 2024 election. The political payoff for being the Republican who “fights” for Trump in that scenario — meaning the secretary of state who refuses to certify a clear Democratic outcome, or the state politician who pushes for some kind of legislative intervention — may be higher in three years than it was last winter. There could also be new pressures on the creaking machinery of the Electoral Count Act should Republicans control the House of Representatives.But as I’ve argued before, you have to balance that increased danger against the reality that Trump in 2024 will have none of the presidential powers, legal and practical, that he enjoyed in 2020 but failed to use effectively in any shape or form. And you have to fold those conspicuous failures, including the constant gap between Gellman’s dire scenarios and Trump’s flailing in pursuit of them, into your analysis as well. You can’t assess Trump’s potential to overturn an election from outside the Oval Office unless you acknowledge his inability to effectively employ the powers of that office when he had them.This is what’s missing in the Kagan style of alarmism. “As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise,” he writes of Trump, “their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian.” That arguably describes the political world of 2015 and 2016, but the story of Trump’s presidency was the exact opposite: not confused paralysis in opposition to an effective authoritarian, but hysterical opposition of every sort swirling around a chief executive who couldn’t get even his own party to pass a serious infrastructure bill or his own military to bend to his wishes on Afghanistan or the Middle East.Again and again, from the first shocking days after his election to the early days of the pandemic, Trump was handed opportunities that a true strongman — from a 1930s dictator to contemporary figures like Hugo Chávez and Vladimir Putin — would have seized and used. Again and again he let those opportunities slide. Again and again his most dramatic actions tended to (temporarily) strengthen his opponents — from the firing of James Comey down to the events of Jan. 6 itself. Again and again his most alarmist critics have accurately analyzed his ruthless amorality but then overestimated his capacity to impose his will on subordinates and allies, let alone the country as a whole.That Trump is resilient nobody disputes. That his flailing incompetence can push him to unusual extremities and create unusual constitutional risks is clear as well. That he could actually beat Joe Biden (or Kamala Harris) fairly in 2024 and become president again is a possibility that cannot be discounted.But to look at all his failures to consolidate and use power and see each one as just a prelude to a more effective coup next time is to assume a direction and a destiny that isn’t yet in evidence. And it’s to hold tightly to certain familiar 20th-century categories, certain preconceptions about How Republics Fall, rather than to acknowledge the sheer shambolic strangeness, the bizarro virtual-reality atmospherics, with which our own decadence has come upon us — with Trump and through Trump but through many other forces, too.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTOpinion) and Instagram. More

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    Andrew Yang Is Back for a Third Round

    Andrew Yang failed in his campaigns for president of the United States and mayor of New York City, but that has not stopped him from trying to disrupt the political status quo with a new party, which he has named “Forward.” This time, the candidate known for evangelizing universal basic income, or U.B.I., is championing ideas like open primaries and rank-choice voting (which, incidentally, was the voting system used in the mayoral race he lost). But critics are skeptical that he needs to work outside the two-party system to accomplish these goals.[You can listen to this episode of “Sway” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]In this conversation, Kara Swisher asks Yang whether the new party is a gimmick to sell books or a real solution to political polarization. She presses him for some self-reflection on his mayoral campaign, and they unpack whether lack of government experience is an asset or a liability. Also, we get an update on the Yang Gang.(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)Andrew YangThoughts? Email us at“Sway” is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen and Caitlin O’Keefe, and edited by Nayeema Raza; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; mixing by Carole Sabouraud and Sonia Herrero; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Liriel Higa. More

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    9/11 and the American Collective Unconscious

    A little more than a month ago, the most newsworthy controversy surrounding the imminent and highly symbolic 20th anniversary of 9/11 concerned the message by families of the victims that Joe Biden would not be welcome at the planned commemoration. They reproached the US president for failing to make good on last year’s campaign promise to declassify the documents they believe will reveal Saudi Arabia’s implication in the attacks.

    That was the story that grabbed headlines at the beginning of August. Hardly a week later, everything had changed. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban and soon the 20-year war would be declared over.

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World


    Though few paid attention to the phenomenon, this also meant that the significance of a commemoration of the attacks, would be radically different. For 19 years, the commemoration served to reinforce the will and resolution of the nation to overcome the humiliation of the fallen twin towers and a damaged wing of the Pentagon.

    Redefining the Meaning of the Historical Trauma

    In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, politicians quickly learned to exploit the date as a painful reminder of a tragedy that had unified an otherwise chaotically disputatious nation in shared horror and mourning. Ever since that fatal day, politicians have invoked it to reinforce the belief in American exceptionalism.

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    The nation is so exceptional in generously providing its people with what President George W. Bush called “our freedoms” — and which he identified as the target of the terrorists — that it was logical to suppose that evil people who didn’t possess those freedoms or were prevented from emigrating to the land of the free would do everything in their power to destroy those freedoms. To the degree that Americans are deeply thankful for possessing such an exceptional status, other ill-intentioned people will take exception to that exceptionality and in their unjustified jealousy will threaten to destroy it.

    On a less philosophical and far more pragmatic note, the remembrance of the 9/11 attacks has conveniently and consistently served to justify an ever-expanding military budget that no patriotic American, interested in preserving through the force of arms the nation’s exceptional status, should ever oppose. It went without saying, through the three previous presidencies, that the annual commemoration provided an obvious explanation of why the forever war in Afghanistan was lasting forever.

    The fall of Kabul on August 15, followed by the panicked retreat of all remaining Americans, caught everyone by surprise. It unexpectedly brought an official end to the war whose unforgettable beginning is traced back to that bright September day in 2001. Though no one has yet had the time to put it all in perspective, the debate in the media has shifted away from glossing the issues surrounding an ongoing war on terror to assessing the blame for its ignominious end. Some may have privately begun to wonder whether the theme being commemorated on this September 11 now concerns the martyrdom of its victims or the humiliation of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. The pace of events since mid-August has meant that the media have been largely silent on this quandary.

    So, What About Saudi Arabia?

    With the American retreat, the controversy around Biden’s unkept campaign promise concerning Saudi Arabia’s implication in 9/11 provisionally took a backseat to a much more consequent quarrel, one that will have an impact on next year’s midterm elections. Nearly every commentator has been eager to join the fray focusing on the assessment of the wisdom or folly of both Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and his seemingly improvised management of the final chaotic phase.

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    The human tragedy visible in the nightly news as throngs of people at Kabul airport desperately sought to flee the country easily eclipsed the genteel but politically significant showdown between a group of American citizens demanding the truth and a government committed to protecting the reputations of friends and allies, especially ones from oil-rich nations.

    The official excuse turns around the criterion that has become a magic formula: national security. But the relatives of victims are justified in wondering which nation’s security is being prioritized. They have a sneaking suspicion that some people in Washington have confused their own nation’s security with Saudi Arabia’s. Just as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt not long ago revealed that plenty of people within the Beltway continue to confuse US foreign policy with Israel’s, the families may be justified in suspecting that Saudi Arabia’s interest in hiding the truth trumps American citizens’ right to know the truth.

    To appease the families of 9/11 victims and permit his unimpeded participation in the commemorations, Biden offered to release some of the classified documents. It was a clever move, since the new, less-redacted version will only become available well after the commemoration. This gesture seems to have accomplished its goal of preventing an embarrassing showdown at the commemoration ceremonies. But it certainly will not be enough to satisfy the demands of the families, who apparently remain focused on obtaining that staple of the US criminal justice system: “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

    Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, may have shown the way concerning the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Like MBS, the White House prefers finding a way to release some of the truth rather than the whole truth — just the amount that doesn’t violate national security or tarnish the reputations of any key people. Those two goals have increasingly become synonymous. If the people knew what actual political personalities were doing, the nation’s security might be endangered, as the people might begin to lose faith in a government that insists on retaining the essential power of deciding how the truth should be told.

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    Here is how the White House officially formulates the legal principle behind its commitment to unveiling a little more truth than is currently available. “Although the indiscriminate release of classified information could jeopardize the national security — including the United States Government’s efforts to protect against future acts of terrorism — information should not remain classified when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.”

    The White House has thus formulated an innovative legal principle brilliantly designed to justify concealing enough of the naked truth to avoid offending public morals by revealing its stark nakedness. Legal scholars of the future may refer to it as the “indiscriminate release” principle. Its logical content is worth exploring. It plays on the auxiliary verbs “could” and “should.” “Could” is invoked in such a way as to suggest that, though it is possible, no reasonable person would take the risk of an “indiscriminate release of classified information.” Later in the same sentence, the auxiliary verb “should” serves to speculatively establish the moral character of the principle. It tells us what “should” be the case — that is, what is morally ideal — even if inevitably the final result will be quite different. This allows the White House to display its good intentions while preparing for an outcome that will surely disappoint.

    To justify its merely partial exposure of the truth, the White House offers another original moral concept when it promises the maximization of transparency. The full sentence reads: “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency.”

    There is of course an easy way to maximize transparency if that is truly the government’s intention. It can be done simply by revealing everything and hiding nothing within the limits of its physical capability. No one doubts that the government is physically capable of removing all the redactions. But the public should know by now that the value cited as overriding all others — national security — implicitly requires hiding a determined amount of the truth. In other words, it is framed as a trade-off between maximum transparency and minimum concealment. Biden has consistently compared himself to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps that trade-off between transparency and concealment is what historians will call Biden’s New Deal.

    But the White House’s reasoning is not yet complete. The document offers yet another guiding principle to explain why not everything will become visible. “Thus, information collected and generated in the United States Government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed,” it affirms, “except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.” Those reasons, the document tells us, will be defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during its “declassification reviews.” This invocation of the “strongest possible reasons” appears to empower the FBI to define or at least apply not only what is “strongest,” but also what is “possible.” That constitutes a pretty broad power.

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    The document states very clearly what the government sees as the ultimate criterion for declassification: “Information may remain classified only if it still requires protection in the interest of the national security and disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security. Information shall not remain classified if there is significant doubt about the need to maintain its classified status.” The families of the victims can simply hope that there will not be too much “significant doubt.” They might be forgiven for doubting that that will be the case.

    One September Morning vs. 20 Years of Subsequent Mornings

    Twenty years ago, a spectacular crime occurred on the East Coast of the United States that set off two decades of crimes, blunders and judgment errors that, now compounded by COVID-19 and aggravated climate change, have brought the world to a crisis point unique in human history.

    The Bush administration, in office for less than eight months at the time of the event, with no certain knowledge of who the perpetrator might have been, chose to classify the attack not as a crime, but as an act of war. When the facts eventually did become clearer after a moment of hesitation in which the administration attempted even to implicate Iraq, the crime became unambiguously attributable, not to a nation but to a politically motivated criminal organization: Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda that back then was operating out of Afghanistan, which was ruled by the Taliban.

    The administration’s choice of treating the attack as an act of war not only stands as a crime in itself, but, as history has shown, as the trigger for a series of even more shameless and far more destructive — if not quite as spectacular — crimes that would roll out for the next two decades and even gain momentum over time. Had the 9/11 attacks been treated as crimes rather than acts of war, the question of national security would have had less importance in the investigation. By going to war with Afghanistan, the Bush administration made it more difficult to investigate all the possible complicities. Could this partially explain its precipitation to start a war?

    Bin Laden, a Saudi, did not act alone. But he did not act in the name of a state either, which is the fundamental criterion for identifying an act of war. He acted within a state, in the territory of Afghanistan. Though his motive was political and the chosen targets were evocatively symbolic of political power, the act itself was in no way political. No more so, in any case, than the January 6 insurrection this year on Capitol Hill.

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    Though the facts are still being obscured and the text describing them remains redacted in the report of the 9/11 Commission, reading between the redacted lines reveals that bin Laden did have significant support from powerful personalities in Saudi Arabia, many of them with a direct connection to the government. This foreknowledge would seem to indicate complicity at some level of the state.

    On this 20th anniversary of a moment of horror, the families of the victims quite logically continue to suspect that if a state was involved that might eventually justify a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the US Constitution), the name of that state should not have been Afghanistan, but Saudi Arabia. It is equally clear that the Afghan government at the time was in no way directly complicit.

    When the new version of the 9/11 Commission’s report appears with its “maximum transparency,” meaning a bare minimum of redaction, the objections of the victims’ families will no longer be news, and the truth about the deeper complicities around 9/11 will most probably remain obscured. Other dramas, concerning the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change and an upcoming midterm election will probably mean that next year’s 21st commemoration will be low-keyed and possibly considered unworthy of significant mention in the news.

    In 2021, the world has become a decidedly different place than it has been over the past two decades. The end of a forever war simply promises a host of new forever problems to emerge for increasingly unstable democracies to deal with.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the US Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

    Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA — the Transportation Security Administration — to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a US phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion, compared with over $28 trillion today.

    We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the US government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.  

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World


    Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the US response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy. 

    Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.” 

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    “You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.” 

    “Insurgent Math”

    Even the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the US created 10 new enemies. Thus, the so-called global war on terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it. 

    By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place. In Libya and Syria, only 10 years after 9/11, US leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11 by recruiting and arming al-Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

    The US response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican senator who voted against the war on Iraq, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

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    But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted in 2002 for the US to invade Iraq paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House. 

    Failure in Afghanistan

    Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the US defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war. 

    Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut US military spending by almost half: $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every US taxpayer $20,000, one would think that Representative Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

    Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for health care, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

    These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proved worthless, as President Biden has acknowledged. 

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    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by the US and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see. 

    But the different paths chosen by American and Chinese leaders are not predestined. Despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the US corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than their country’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in US foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the people.

    Weapons and More Weapons

    The perennial handicap that has dogged US diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” 

    Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force. 

    The rote declarations of US leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the US development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

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    By contrast, US leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain US “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. 

    A “new American century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.  

    America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s US war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.    

    Time to Get Serious

    But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard. 

    First, we must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues.

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    Second, we must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the US war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  

    Third, we must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending” US vital interests, humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” — whose rules only apply to others but never to the United States. 

    Finally, we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including US weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes, and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia. 

    Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Did 9/11 Change Everything?

    Twenty years ago, the United States sustained the first substantial attacks on the mainland since the War of 1812. It was a collective shock to all Americans who believed their country to be impregnable. The Cold War had produced the existential dread of a nuclear attack, but that always lurked in the realm of the maybe. On a day-to-day basis, Americans enjoyed the exceptional privilege of national security. No one would dare attack us for fear of massive retaliation. Little did we imagine that someone would attack us in order to precipitate massive retaliation.

    Osama bin Laden understood that American power was vulnerable when overextended. He knew that the greatest military power in the history of the world, deranged by a desire for vengeance, could be lured into taking a cakewalk into a quagmire. With the attacks on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda turned ordinary American airplanes into weapons to attack American targets. In the larger sense, bin Laden used the entire American army to destroy the foundations of American empire.

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World


    The commentary on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 has been predictably shallow: how the attacks changed travel, fiction, the arts in general. Consider this week’s Washington Post magazine section in which 28 contributors reflect on the ways that the attacks changed the world.

    “The attack would alter the lives of U.S. troops and their families, and millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the editors write. “It would set the course of political parties and help to decide who would lead our country. In short, 9/11 changed the world in demonstrable, massive and heartbreaking ways. But the ripple effects altered our lives in subtle, often-overlooked ways as well.”

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    The subsequent entries on art, fashion, architecture, policing, journalism and so on attempt to describe these subtler effects. Yet it’s difficult to read this special issue without concluding that 9/11, in fact, didn’t change the world much at all.

    The demonization of American Muslims? That began long before the fateful day, cresting after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The paranoid retrenchment in American architecture? US embassies were rebuilt not in response to 9/11, but the embassy bombings in Beirut in 1983-84 and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

    The impact of 9/11 on the arts can be traced through a handful of works like Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” or the TV series “24” or Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” but it didn’t produce a new artistic movement like Dada in the wake of World War I or cli-fi in response to the climate crisis. Even the experience of flying hasn’t changed that much beyond beefed-up security measures. At this point, the introduction of personal in-flight entertainment systems has arguably altered the flying experience more profoundly.

    And isn’t the assertion that 9/11 changed everything exceptionally America-centric? Americans were deeply affected, as were the places invaded by US troops. But how much has life in Japan or Zimbabwe or Chile truly changed as a result of 9/11? Of course, Americans have always believed that, as the song goes, “we are the world.”

    More Than a Mistake

    In a more thoughtful Post consideration of 9/11, Carlos Lozado reviews many of the books that have come out in the last 20 years on what went wrong. In his summary, US policy proceeds like a cascade of falling dominos, each one a mistake that follows from the previous and sets into motion the next.

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    Successive administrations underestimated al-Qaeda and failed to see signs of preparation for the 9/11 attacks. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Bush administration mistakenly followed the example of numerous empires in thinking that it could subdue Afghanistan and remake it in the image of the colonial overlord. It then compounded that error by invading Iraq in 2003 with the justification that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, was building up a nuclear program, or was otherwise part of an alliance of nations determined to take advantage of an America still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Subsequent administrations made the mistake of doubling down in Afghanistan, expanding the war on terror to other battlefields and failing to end US operations at propitious moments like the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

    Lozado concludes by pointing out that Donald Trump is in many ways a product of the war on terror that followed 9/11. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate—and using that lie as a successful political platform,” he writes. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a ‘battle space’ to be dominated.”

    But to understand the rise of Trump, it’s necessary to see 9/11 and its aftermath as more than just the product of a series of errors of perception and judgment. Implicit in Lozado’s review is the notion that America somehow lost its way, that an otherwise robust intelligence community screwed the pooch, that some opportunistic politicians used the attacks to short-circuit democracy, public oversight and even military logic. But this assumes that the war on terror represents a substantial rift in the American fabric. The 9/11 attacks were a surprise. The response wasn’t.

    The United States had already launched a war against Iraq in 1991. It had already mistakenly identified Iran, Hamas and jihadist forces like al-Qaeda as enemies linked by their broad religious identity. It had built a worldwide arsenal of bases and kept up extraordinarily high levels of military spending to maintain full-spectrum dominance. Few American politicians questioned the necessity of this hegemony, though liberals tended to prefer that US allies shoulder some of the burden and neoconservatives favored a more aggressive effort to roll back the influence of Russia, China and other regional hegemons.

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    The “war on terror” effectively began in 1979 when the United States established its “state sponsors of terrorism” list. The Reagan administration used “counterterrorism” as an organizing principle of US foreign policy throughout the 1980s. In the post-Cold War era, the Clinton administration attempted to demonstrate its hawk credentials by launching counterterrorism strikes in Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    What changed after 9/11 is that neoconservatives could push their regime-change agenda more successfully because the attacks had temporarily suppressed the Vietnam syndrome, a response to the negative consequences of extended overseas military engagements. Every liberal in Congress, except for the indomitable Barbara Lee, supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as if they’d been born just the day before. That just happens to be one of those side-effects of empire listed in fine print on the label: periodic and profound amnesia.

    In this sense, Trump is not a product of the war on terror. His views on US foreign policy have ranged across the spectrum from jingoistic to non-interventionist. His attitude toward protesters was positively Nixonian. And his recourse to conspiracy theories derived from his legendary disregard for truth. Regardless of 9/11, Trump’s ego would have propelled him toward the White House.

    The surge of popular support that placed him in the Oval Office, on the other hand, can only be understood in the post-9/11 context. Cyberspace was full of all sorts of nonsense prior to 9/11 (remember the Y2K predictions?). But the attacks gave birth to a new variety of “truthers” who insisted, against all contrary evidence, that nefarious forces had constructed a self-serving reality. The attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon were “inside jobs.” The Newtown shootings had been staged by “crisis actors.” Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

    The shock of the United States being so dramatically and improbably attacked by a couple dozen foreigners was so great that some Americans, uncoupled from their bedrock assumptions about their own national security, were now willing to believe anything. Ultimately, they were even willing to believe someone who lied more consistently and more frequently than any other politician in US history.

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    Trump effectively promised to erase 9/11 from the American consciousness and rewind the clock back to the golden moment of unipolar US power. In offering such selective memory loss, Trump was a quintessentially imperial president.

    The Real Legacy of 9/11

    Even after the British formally began to withdraw from the empire business after World War II, they couldn’t help but continue to act as if the sun didn’t set on their domains. It was the British who masterminded the coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. It was the British at the head of the invasion of Egypt in 1956 to recapture control of the Suez Canal. Between 1949 and 1970, Britain launched 34 military interventions in all.

    The UK apparently never received the memo that it was no longer a dominant military power. It’s hard for empires to retire gracefully. Just ask the French.

    The final US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month was in many ways a courageous and successful action by the Biden administration, though it’s hard to come to that conclusion by reading the media accounts. President Joe Biden made the difficult political decision to stick to the terms that his predecessor negotiated with the Taliban last year. Despite being caught by surprise by the Taliban’s rapid seizure of power over the summer, the administration was able to evacuate around 120,000 people, a number that virtually no one would have expected prior to the fall of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sure, the administration should have been better prepared. Sure, it should have committed to evacuating more Afghans who fear for their lives under the Taliban. But it made the right move to finally end the US presence in Afghanistan.

    Biden has made clear that US counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will continue, that the war on terror in the region is not over. Yet, US operations in the Middle East now have the feel of those British interventions in the twilight of empire. America is retreating, slowly but surely and sometimes under a protective hail of bullets. The Islamic State group and its various incarnations have become the problem of the Taliban — and the Syrian state, the Iraq state, the Libyan state (such that it is) and so on.

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    Meanwhile, the United States turns its attention toward China. But this is no Soviet Union. China is a powerhouse economy with a government that has skillfully used nationalism to bolster domestic support. With trade and investment, Beijing has recreated a Sinocentric tributary system in Asia. America really doesn’t have the capabilities to roll back Chinese influence in its own backyard.

    So that, in the end, is what 9/11 has changed. The impact on culture, on the daily lives of those not touched directly by the tragedies, has been minimal. The deeper changes — on perceptions of Muslims, on the war on terror — had been set in motion before the attacks happened.

    But America’s place in the world? In 2000, the United States was still riding high in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Today, despite the strains of MAGA that can be heard throughout America’s political culture, the United States has become one major power among many. It can’t dictate policy down the barrel of a gun. Economically it must reckon with China. In geopolitics, it has become the unreliable superpower.

    Even in our profound narcissism, Americans are slowly realizing, like the Brits so many years ago, that the imperial game is up.

    *[This article was originally published by FPIF.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the Taliban End Up Under the Influence?

    Yahoo News Senior Editor Mike Bebernes asks the big question on everyone’s mind after the American debacle in Afghanistan: “Does the U.S. have any real leverage over the Taliban?” After summarizing the immediate political background of the topic, he compares the speculative answers of a variety of pundits.

    Bebernes distinguishes between what he calls optimists, who “say the U.S. has enormous leverage to hold the Taliban to their commitments,” and the pessimists, who apparently believe that the interests of the two countries have so little in common that it isn’t worth bothering about the concerns of such savage people. In other words, as Donnie Brasco would say, “Forget about it!”

    Right Think: Jane Austen Against Terrorism


    The optimists typically cite the weakness of the Afghan economy and the problems the Taliban will face without US cooperation. Others think that a common concern with fanatical terrorist groups may create an opportunity for mutual understanding. Bebernes suggests that the Taliban government is likely to “seek support in combating its own terror threat from groups like [the Islamic State in Khorasan Province], which some experts believe will create another point of leverage for the U.S.”

    One of the pessimists appears to believe that, as in the Cold War, there may become what General Turgidson in “Dr. Strangelove” would have called a “leverage gap” between the US and Russia or China. “Other world powers could undercut America’s leverage.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:


    The measure of the power of a state with imperial ambitions over the life and death of populations beyond its borders

    Contextual Note

    The trauma Americans experienced after Saigon, nearly half a century ago, and Kabul today has provoked what might be called the first “leverage crisis” in US history. For more than two centuries, the United States has carved out, largely unimpeded, its areas of influence in various parts of the world. Areas of influence eventually evolved into “spheres of influence.”

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    Following World War II, American strategists realized they could conquer, economically if not politically, the great sphere itself, the earthly globe. The globalization of what was originally the US version of Europe’s capitalist economy, along with a reinforced ideology thanks to thinkers from the University of Chicago, led every strategist within Washington’s Beltway to assume that the globe itself could become America’s hegemonic domain.

    Exercising geopolitical and economic hegemony required two things: physical presence — provided essentially by multinational firms and American military bases — and a toolbox of influence, which could take the form alternatively of overt and covert military action or economic sanctions. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US State Department has wielded those tools with a sense of ever-increasing impunity as it proceeded to intimidate both its allies and nations that refused to acknowledge their tributary status with regard to US influence. For the past four decades, the US has relied on either warfare — invasion, occupation and bombing campaigns, unlimited in time and scope — or increasingly severe economic sanctions to reaffirm what was officially formulated as influence, but exercised with a spirit of hegemonic control.

    The debacle in Afghanistan reveals a deeper trouble at the core of strategic decision-making in Washington. The new emphasis on the concept of leverage can be read as an admission that the toolbox to manage a sphere of influence has lost much of its efficacy. For decades, the idea of applying and reinforcing influence dominated Washington’s strategic thinking. It is now being replaced by the much more fragile idea of exercising leverage. Both the State Department and the media pundits appear puzzled about what that might mean.

    The concept of leverage comes from the field of mechanics. It describes the function of a lever. “Levers convert a small force applied over a long distance to a large force applied over a small distance.” Twenty years of yet another futile, expensive and demonstrably stupid war appears to have taught Washington that it no longer has the control over distance that it formerly believed it had. Its wasteful actions have also diminished its force.

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    Making leverage work in mechanics requires some careful analysis, preparation and effective execution. These are efforts the strategists, planners and decision-makers, convinced of the indomitable force of their influence, have consistently failed to carry out in a competent way. Could it be too late for them to learn the art of leverage? Or is the very fact that they are now obliged to think in terms of leverage rather than influence so humiliating an experience that they will fail to engage?

    This may be the occasion for US President Joe Biden to leverage the vaunted “power of our example” rather than the “example of our power” that he so regularly mentions in his speeches. That would require some real geopolitical creativity. And does he really believe that the US could live up to that standard? Few commentators have remarked that Biden, true to his own tradition, plagiarized that line from Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., who originally used it in 2005 to condemn the Iraq war that Biden had so forcefully promoted as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Historical Note

    In 1823, President James Monroe promulgated the Monroe Doctrine that continues to this day to dominate US relations with the entire American continent. It became a permanent feature of the mindset of US strategists, who without a trace of tragic irony routinely consider Latin America in its entirety, right down to the Tierra del Fuego, as Washington’s “backyard.” Peter Hakim, a senior fellow of the Inter-American Dialogue, in a Foreign Affairs in 2007 article with the title, “Is Washington Losing Latin America?” dared to express the feelings not only of the US political class, but also those of the USA’s neighbors. “Perhaps what most troubles Latin Americans is the sense that Washington just does not take the region seriously and still considers it to be its own backyard,” he wrote.

    In 1823, Latin America’s population consisted of three broad socio-cultural and ethnic components: indigenous people who occupied most of the mountainous interior; descendants of Iberian Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese) who, following their 15th and 16th-century conquests, dominated the political and economic structures; and imported African slaves (primarily in Brazil). All three were as distant from the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture of the US as anyone could imagine. These were the populations President Monroe wanted to “protect” from hostile action by European powers. 

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    Through its own expansion justified in the name of “manifest destiny,” the US had demonstrated how it would deal with indigenous Americans. Primarily through genocidal warfare. It demonstrated its attitude toward Africans, deemed useful purely for economic exploitation as slaves. As for the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking populations who created the culture that prevailed across all the coastal regions of Latin America, they belonged at best to the category of second-class Europeans. The fact that the majority were mestizos (mixed-race) defined them irrevocably as third-class. At least they could thank their hybrid status for being spared the fate of the true indigenous, who could at any moment, even in recent times, be subjected to genocidal treatment.

    In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt refined the Monroe Doctrine by adding the Roosevelt Corollary. It “stated that in cases of flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American country, the United States could intervene in that country’s internal affairs.” If during the 19th the Monroe Doctrine functioned mainly as a barrier to European incursion, by the beginning of the 20th century, the US had come to understand the value for its burgeoning capitalist economy of controlling what came to become a continental sphere of influence. Controlling meant having the power to organize the economy of the countries under its influence.

    Following the Second World War and the collapse of nearly all the vestiges of European colonization, the US discovered that the entire globe could potentially become its sphere of influence. Some have called the period of the Cold War the Pax Americana, simply because the standoff with the Soviet Union never became a hot war between the two massively armed superpowers. But throughout the period there were proxy wars, clandestine operations and regime change campaigns galore that meant the heat was never really turned down.

    What a comedown it must be today to have to debate how to exercise leverage.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

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    Israel’s Spy Agency Snubbed the U.S. Can Trust Be Restored?

    Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, heads to Washington promising better relations and seeking support for covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.WASHINGTON — The cable sent this year by the outgoing C.I.A. officer in charge of building spy networks in Iran reverberated throughout the intelligence agency’s Langley headquarters, officials say: America’s network of informers had largely been lost to Tehran’s brutally efficient counterintelligence operations, which has stymied efforts to rebuild it.Israel has helped fill the breach, officials say, its robust operations in Iran providing the United States with streams of reliable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities, missile programs and on its support for militias around the region.The two countries’ intelligence services have a long history of cooperation and operated in virtual lock step during the Trump administration, which approved or was party to many Israeli operations in its shadow war against Iran.That changed after the election of President Biden, who promised to restore the nuclear agreement with Iran that Israel so vigorously opposed. In the spring, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, even curtailed intelligence sharing with the United States because he did not trust the Biden administration.The challenge for the two countries — as Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, meets with Mr. Biden at the White House on Thursday — will be whether they can rebuild that trust even as they pursue contradictory agendas on Iran. The Biden administration favors a diplomatic approach, reviving and building on the 2015 nuclear agreement, while Israeli officials say that only force can stop Iran from building an atomic bomb.A key goal for Mr. Bennett will be to determine whether the Biden administration will continue to support Israel’s covert operations against Iran’s nuclear program, senior Israeli officials said.Israeli officials hope that any new deal with Iran will not limit such operations, which in the past have included sabotage of Iranian nuclear facilities and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.The White House meeting comes just weeks after William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, traveled to Israel to meet his counterpart, David Barnea, as well as Mr. Bennett, a sign of the importance of intelligence cooperation to the bilateral relationship.“The sharing of intelligence and operational activity between Israel and the United States is one of the most important subjects on the agenda for the meeting,” said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a former director of Israeli military intelligence. “Israel has developed unique capabilities for intelligence collection in a number of enemy countries, capabilities that the United States was not able to grow on its own and without which its national security would be vulnerable. ”William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, second from left, recently met with his counterpart in Israel. The two agencies are trying to rebuild trust as their countries pursue contradictory agendas on Iran.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesIn his meeting with Mr. Biden, Mr. Bennett’s hand will be strengthened by the fact that the United States has become more dependent on Israel for information on Iran. The United States has other sources of information, including electronic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, but it lacks the in-country spy network Israel has..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The risk of such dependence became clear in April when Israel set off explosives at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant.Mr. Netanyahu had ordered his national security officials to reduce the information that they conveyed to the United States about planned operations in Iran, American and Israeli officials said.And on the day of the attack, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, gave the United States less than two hours’ notice, according to American and Israeli officials, far too short a time for the United States to assess the operation or ask Israel to call it off.Israeli and American officials interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations.Israeli officials said they took the precautions because Americans had leaked information about some Israeli operations, a charge U.S. officials deny. Other Israeli officials say the Biden administration had been inattentive to their security concerns, too focused on reviving the Iran nuclear agreement that President Donald J. Trump had pulled out of.A satellite photo showing the Natanz nuclear facility in April 2021. Days earlier, Israeli operatives set off a large explosion inside the plant. Planet Labs Inc., via Associated PressIn Washington, many American officials said they believed that Mr. Netanyahu was just resuming the grudge he had held against the Obama administration, which negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.The last-minute notification of the Natanz operation was the starkest example that Israel had changed its procedures since the Trump presidency.Senior Biden administration officials said that the Israelis, at least in spirit, had violated a longstanding, unwritten agreement to at least advise the United States of covert operations, giving Washington a chance to object.Mr. Burns called his counterpart, Yossi Cohen, the Mossad chief, expressing concern over the snub, according to people briefed on the call.Mr. Cohen said that the belated notification was the result of operational constraints and uncertainty about when the Natanz operation would take place.For the American-Israeli intelligence relationship, it was another a sharp turnabout.Relations had soured during the Obama era.The Obama White House, concerned that Israel was leaking information, kept the existence of the negotiations with Iran secret from Israel, a former Obama administration official said. Israeli intelligence learned of the meetings from its own sources.Mr. Netanyahu was also convinced that American spy agencies were keeping him under surveillance, according to a former Israeli official.During the Trump administration, cooperation reached new highs.In the spring, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, curtailed intelligence sharing with the United States because he did not trust the Biden administration.Dan Balilty for The New York TimesWhen the Mossad stole Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018, the only foreign officials briefed in advance were Mr. Trump and his C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo.Israeli officials used the documents to convince Mr. Trump that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and Mr. Trump cited them when he withdrew from the nuclear agreement months later, a major victory for Mr. Netanyahu.“This was clever use of intelligence,” Mr. Netanyahu told The New York Times in 2019.Iran has denied that it seeks a nuclear weapon, but the archives showed that Iran had a nuclear weapons program as recently as 2003. According to American intelligence officials, no evidence has emerged that the program continued.During meetings with senior Trump administration officials in late 2019 and early 2020, Mr. Cohen presented a new Iran strategy, arguing for aggressive covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities and killing key personnel to force Iran to accept a stricter agreement.Israel began a wave of covert operations, keeping the Trump administration in the loop on a series of cyber and bombing attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and on the assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020, after the American election but before Mr. Biden took office.The two countries also cooperated on two operations in 2020: a U.S. operation to kill the leader of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and an Israeli operation to kill a Qaeda leader who had taken refuge in Tehran.Mr. Pompeo, who later served as secretary of state, said that there was no relationship more important during his four years in the Trump administration than the one that the C.I.A. had with the Mossad.“The two organizations really had a moment, an important moment in history,” he said in an interview in June.In January 2020, an American drone strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani as he was leaving the Baghdad airport. The strike was aided by Israeli intelligence.Sergey Ponomarev for The New York TimesBut the warmth of the Trump years quickly gave way to chillier relations this year. The Biden administration’s announcement of its plan to return to the Iran nuclear deal and repeated delays of visits by Israeli intelligence officials to Washington deepened skepticism of the new administration in Israel.Mr. Cohen sought to repair the relationship with the United States during his final months as Mossad chief, a senior Israeli official said.On his final visit to Washington in April, a little more than two weeks after the Natanz bombing, he met with C.I.A. officials and Mr. Biden, promising a more transparent intelligence relationship. Mr. Burns gave him a warm reception, and an award for fostering the close partnership between the Mossad and the C.I.A.“You have people within both intelligence organizations that have had relationships for a very long time,” said Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer and former member of the House Intelligence Committee. “There is a closeness and an ability to potentially smooth out some of the problems that may manifest from the leaders.”Arguably as important in rebooting the relations between the two spy shops was the departure of Mr. Netanyahu from the prime minister’s office.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who meets with President Biden on Thursday, said he would use the meeting with Mr. Biden to try to reset the tone of Israel’s relationship with the United States.Amit Elkayam for The New York TimesMr. Bennett says he wants to open a new chapter in relations with the White House, and has promised a more constructive approach.But the Mossad is already planning more secret operations in Iran. The question for the Biden administration is which are acceptable and when, General Zeevi Farkash said.“The U.S. and Israel must jointly identify the red lines so that if Iran crosses them, Israel can act to prevent it from achieving military nuclear capacity,” he said.Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman reported from Washington, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington. More

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    Congress Adjourns While the Nation Burns

    While the fate of many in Afghanistan hangs in the balance, at least Americans at home can breathe a sigh of relief. Both the US House of Representatives and the Senate are on vacation for weeks to come. Citizens of the nation’s capital can recapture their identity from the out-of-town blowhards who give Washington a bad name. The trick now will be to encourage as many Republicans as possible to stay away for good. Admittedly, this may take another election to accomplish, but it is important to get to work on it now.

    On the Senate side of the Capitol, both Democrats and Republicans are leaving town with their party balloons still in the air in celebration of a bill to fund repair and replacement of a portion of the nation’s hard infrastructure that has crumbled before their very eyes for decades. It has become so rare that both parties can agree on anything that the celebration far outweighs the accomplishment. After all that hard work, it seems that it is time for a “well-deserved” weeks-long vacation, the other topic that receives regular bipartisan support.

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    On the House of Representatives side, things are a little more complicated. That group of dedicated public servants adjourned on July 30 for seven weeks, although a short recall is possible for a symbolic vote or two along the way. To be fair, they did pass some meaningful legislation in the last few months. However, only one such piece of legislation has passed the Senate as well and been signed into law — Joe Biden’s initial COVID-19 relief bill (American Rescue Plan). But at least they tried to find legislative solutions on some significant issues, the most important of which are voting rights and police reform.

    With all those senators and representatives now vacationing, it would be easy to conclude from this casual approach to governance that the nation is smoothly sailing to its appointed destiny of renewed greatness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    There is so much that is so obviously wrong at the moment in today’s America that even the appearance of a weeks-long hiatus should ethically disqualify those vacationing legislators from further service. A “grateful” nation should retire all of them. But that won’t happen, in part because each of them will have a spin machine at work full-time rolling out the tale of just how hard they are working on the issues of the day back in their districts.

    While You Were Vacationing

    Lest you think that I am being a little hard on these self-congratulatory public servants, let’s take a look at what is going on around the nation and around the world while the US Congress has freed itself of its legislative responsibilities.

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    First, and most obvious, COVID-19 is again ravaging the nation. So, instead of collectively working on urgent public health initiatives, like vaccination mandates, the vacationing legislators are individually on the stump creating more public health confusion. Much of the idiocy makes enough local news that it fortifies those in the caves, covens and churches in Republican districts and states as they go about their communities spreading the disease. The only upside is that many of the vacationing Republican congresspersons are spending their time hanging out with their unmasked and unvaccinated constituents.

    Meanwhile, a country that clings to the notion that the current version of universal suffrage has become a critical component of its “democratic” foundation is in the throes of an unrelenting Republican-led effort to do everything possible to make voting more difficult and less universal. The reasons for this are simple: racism and privilege. Universal suffrage to white conservatives is only a good thing if the “universe” is overwhelmingly composed of right-wing white people. Unfortunately for that dwindling crowd, the universe includes a lot of black and brown people, and a whole bunch of young people who see “universal” as a plus.

    There is an easy way to stop the reversal of the democratic process in America. It is to pass legislation at the national level that sets clear voting rights standards, that increases access to the ballot for all eligible voters and that provides fierce enforcement measures to ensure legal compliance. But you can’t do any of this on vacation.

    While many of those vacationing legislators may come face-to-face with constituents in places where everything is burning, and heatwaves, drought and smoke spread daily devastation, nothing can be done about this either while on vacation. Therefore, environmental laws, climate change legislation, and economic incentives and regulatory mandates remain on hold. The legal framework for cleaner energy production, research and use remains unchanged and woefully inadequate to meet today’s planetary challenges.

    While climate change is taking its deadly toll during the congressional vacation season, we should not forget about gun violence and police violence. Hardly a day goes by in America without multiple firearm deaths and some measure of police overreaction or undertraining resulting in the death or serious injury of someone in some community that the cops are supposed to be protecting. It will be hard to get a full tally from these events over the coming vacation weeks, but every congressperson knows that critically-needed federal legislation to address rampant gun violence and police reform will be on hold, as well.

    No matter how completely oblivious most Americans have become to gun violence (until it hits very close to home), America remains the most likely developed country in which at any moment someone is being killed or killing themselves with a firearm. Since it has been a few weeks now since the nation’s latest high-profile mass killing, it will be hard to make it to the end of this congressional vacation without another one. Thoughts and prayers are all we get when Congress is in session, so their absence shouldn’t change the landscape much on this one. But we should all be disgusted that these public servants can go on vacation while the gun carnage continues unabated and has remained unaddressed in meaningful federal legislation for decades.

    The List Goes On

    I could go on. The list is long. But so is the vacation. Think about how a functioning legislature might be able to make some legislative progress in the coming weeks on universal access to meaningful health care, child care and family leave, a living minimum wage, tax reform and access to quality education.

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    There might even be the opportunity to debate the crippling and continuing impact of America’s systemic racism and how to do something about it. And maybe if they weren’t all on vacation, they could do something constructive, instead of sound bites, about the implementation of America’s long-overdue withdrawal from Afghanistan and its human rights implications, about immigrants and refugees, and about ensuring that the vaccines that Americans are throwing away get into the arms of those begging for them elsewhere.

    They could be doing some of this, but they are doing none of it. They are on vacation.

    *[This article was co-published on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More